According to Kusti Salm, secretary general at the Estonian Ministry of Defense and Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) division commander Major General Veiko-Vello Palm, one of the main lessons of the war in Ukraine is that Estonia’s ammunition stocks are in need of major replenishment.
“‘Security’ is the keyword of recent times. Estonia has never had such strong guarantees or allies,” said Kusti Salm, secretary general at the Estonian Ministry of Defense.
“There are three nuclear states present in Estonia, who are here permanently and are ready to defend Estonia from the very first moment. We also have a strong reserve force. But, to be protected, you have to do the work yourself. In order to protect Estonia, we have to invest in defense, in people, in reserves and in ammunition,” Salm said at a Ministry of Defense press conference on Friday.
He then stressed, that the war in Ukraine poses an existential threat to Estonia and that the battle is not just one being fought on the front line. It is also a fight to defend the founding principles of Europe.
“The outcome of the war must show, first of all, that aggression as a form of policy making, will not pay. Second, that there is no place in Europe for the politics of spheres of influence, and third, that, in this war, the politics of the free world must prevail. For Estonia, these are existential questions,” Salm said.
“The clear objective of Estonian policy is, that Ukraine must win the war. However, success cannot be measured by the amount of aid given from the palaces of Europe, because 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory is occupied,” Salm said.
According to Salm, the West’s actions have been hampered by both lack of resources and its ambiguous aims. “The European Union has to give Ukraine hope. The Covid-19 crisis was resolved using 30 times more money than has been given so far to support Ukraine. There is still plenty of scope to contribute (more),” he added.
“Estonia has given one percent of its GDP in aid to Ukraine, meaning we are in first place among the Western allies. It is important to encourage our allies. It is difficult for them to give up when smaller countries have done more,” Salm said.
“However, it’s becoming harder and harder to give more aid because the ammunition depots are running out. Russia uses up more ammunition in a day than the EU can produce in a month. That’s why Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) and Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) have come up with the idea of a joint EU procurement of one million shells for Ukraine. This should also encourage the EU defense industry,” Salm said.
Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) division commander Major General Veiko-Vello Palm also stressed, that Estonia needs more supplies and ammunition, to ensure it is in a better position to defend itself.
“This is not just Putin’s war, it is the war of all the Russian people. Three out of four (Russian) people support the war. Nor is the Russian strategy a failure. It has occupied a significant part of Ukraine, every frozen conflict is a feather in its cap. Something is also starting to happen in Moldova,” Palm said.
“The Russian Federation has enough reserves to continue the war. A third of their national budget is being spent on it,” Palm said. “The West cannot escalate the war through its own actions,. Russia is escalating it itself with its own wisdom and will. It does not need us to do so,” Palm said.
“Let me make a tough point here, there is no reason to hope that a Ukrainian offensive in the spring will lead to a breakthrough in the war. There will be victories, but there is no reason to hope that Ukraine will be able to win militarily this spring,” Palm added.
“The changes on the battlefield are not dependent on Ukraine’s actions. The important change has to take place in the minds of Putin and his close associates, in the way they see this war,” Palm said.
“While Ukraine’s resistance was underestimated by the Russian Federation, their strategic objectives have not changed. (For Russia), Ukraine must be wiped off the map. The threat to Russia is not a military one, it is the presence of democracies like Estonia near its borders. There is certainly no end in sight to the war in Ukraine. Russia is prepared to put a huge amount of resources into it. 100,000 people have already lost their lives there, but they still believe that they can win,” Palm continued.
According to Palm, Ukraine has recently been hit by missiles that were produced in 2023. That is, ones which are entirely new. “They are no longer capable of precision, but their lethal superiority is not going away. They keep taking more and more tanks and making one out of three into a (new) functioning tank. They still have tens of thousands of missiles and hundreds of thousands of rockets,” Palm said.
Palm stressed that the Russian Federation will remain a military threat to Estonia in the years to come. He said, that while Russia does not directly threaten Estonia now, it will do in the long term. “It will take time to build up a defense force. We need technology, reserves and troops. To be ready for war, we need to have full warehouses,” Palm said.
“We have invested the money given to the defense sector in ammunition and direct combat capabilities. Last year, we purchased more ammunition than over the last 30 years combined,” said Palm, before listing off some of the key recent defense investments.
“More Javelins have come in than gone out. The procurement of medium-range air defenses with Latvia, armored vehicles for the 2nd Infantry Brigade, and for a field hospital with France are all currently underway. We are concentrating on precision strike capabilities to destroy enemy artillery. Anti-ship missiles with a range of 250 kilometers are also about to arrive. More HIMARS will come, adding to the U.S. and British systems already in Estonia. We are also increasing our units’ ability to resist losses,” he said.
“At the heart of our national defense is the individual and his or her preparedness. We only benefit from those units that are trained. This creates motivation for the soldier. Training takes time and it will put a burden on our reserve forces. 10,000 people will have to leave and go into the military and their wartime roles. Israel is a role model for us in this sense. Reserve commanders there commit 90 to 120 days a year in order to be ready for a war situation,” said Palm.
“However, the combat capability of the defense forces is based on ammunition, and that is what we are investing time and resources in,” he added.
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